The Gustavus men’s basketball team moved one step closer to earning a spot in the MIAC Playoffs by defeating Carleton 59-53 on Monday night at Gus Young Court. In a very physical contest, the Gusties dominated the boards out-rebounding the Knights 39-23 eliminating second-chance scoring opportunities. Gustavus also executed on the offensive end, shooting 51.1 percent from the field. In a game that was a true team effort, no Gustie reached double-figures, as Phil Wirtjes’ nine points paced Gustavus.
Wirtjes provided an immediate spark off the bench for the Gusties when he hit an 18-foot jumper and a three-point basket to give Gustavus a slim 15-13 lead with 11:24 left in the first half. The Knights began to heat up from three-point range though as Zach Johnson and Blaise Davis combined to make three consecutive shots to put Carleton ahead 22-18. The Gusties stuck with the Knights by forcing turnovers and controlling the boards to take a 30-28 lead into halftime after a Ryan McPartland three. Gustavus held an 18-10 rebounding edge and shot 54.2 percent, but the Knights stayed in the game with six three-pointers.
The Gusties found their long-range stroke early in the second half when Robert Schmidt and Ryan McPartland made their first three three-pointers to put Gustavus ahead 39-31 three minutes into the frame. The Gusties held their largest lead of the contest at 47-38 after Mike DesLauriers threw a bounce pass along the baseline to Schmidt for a layup with 9:00 left. Carleton’s Zach Johnson countered with five straight points, cutting the lead to 47-43 before Bobby Johnson hit a soft turnaround jumper in the lane to stop the run.
The teams were stuck at 49-43 for over three minutes until Seth Jonker hit a pair of free throws for the Knights with 4:40 remaining in the contest. The offenses traded baskets before Carleton made a defensive stop and drained a three to pull within 57-53 with less than a minute to play. Jesse Van Sickle made both ends of an one-and-one to put Gustavus ahead 59-53 as the contest became a game of execution. The Knights were unable to hit a field goal down the stretch as the Gusties came away key rebounds to hang on for the victory.
In addition to Wirtjes’ nine points, four players added eight points to the balanced attack, including Robert Schmidt, Ryan McPartland, Sam Paulson, and Bobby Johnson, as the Gustie bench outscored the Knights 26-12. Zach Johnson of Carleton led all scorers with 16 points on 6-for-18 shooting followed by ten points from Bryan Rosett. After their hot start from three-point range, the Knights cooled off in the second half going 2-for-11 to finish the game shooting 33.3 percent (8-for-24).
The Gusties, who improved to 11-10 overall and 10-6 in the MIAC, will face St. Olaf on Wednesday in St. Peter at 7:30 p.m. Carleton, which fell to 15-7 overall and 11-6 in the league, has a bye on Wednesday night.